Losing Ground: Land conflicts and collective action in eastern Myanmar


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Losing Ground: Land conflicts and collective action in eastern Myanmar

Published date:
Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Analysis of KHRG's field information gathered between January 2011 and November 2012 in seven geographic research areas in eastern Myanmar indicates that natural resource extraction and development projects undertaken or facilitated by civil and military State authorities, armed ethnic groups and private investors resulted in land confiscation and forced displacement, and were implemented without consulting, compensating or notifying project-affected communities. Exclusion from decision-making and displacement and barriers to land access present major obstacles to effective local-level response, while current legislation does not provide easily accessible mechanisms to allow their complaints to be heard. Despite this, villagers employ forms of collective action that provide viable avenues to gain representation, compensation and forestall expropriation. Key findings in this report were drawn based upon analysis of four trends, including: Lack of consultation; Land confiscation; Disputed compensation; and Development-induced displacement and resettlement, as well as four collective action strategies, including: Reporting to authorities; Organizing a committee or protest; Negotiation; and Non-compliance, and six consequences on communities, including: Negative impacts on livelihoods; Environmental impacts; Physical security threats; Forced labour and exploitative demands; Denial of access to humanitarian goods and services; and Migration.


[1] See Appendix 1: Source document/T'NayHsahPlantationAgriculture/2012/5.

[2] See Appendix 1: Source document/PapunBilinRiverDam/2011.

[3] The data analysed for this report was received by KHRG from January 2011-November 2012 but covers a range of development projects occurring from 1999 onwards. The increase is demonstrated in the detail provided in Section VI: Projects under observation, which shows that incoming business, particularly by private companies, surpassed numbers in the previous years, corresponding to new opportunities presented by the November 2010 general election and Myanmar government-KNU ceasefire. Of the 99 documents that raised issues related to natural resource extraction and business or state-led development projects, 60 raised incidents occurring after November 2010 and 34 raised incidents occurring since January 2012.

[4] The KNU and Government of Myanmar agreed to a ceasefire on January 12th 2012. Since then they have held several rounds of dialogue but this has not yet resulted in a concrete code of conduct or in resolution of political demands by the KNU. KHRG has published two commentaries considering villagers' perspectives on the ceasefire, and opportunities that it presents to address outstanding issues of the conflict, see "Safeguarding human rights in a post-ceasefire eastern Burma," KHRG, January 2012 and "Steps towards peace: Local participation in the Karen ceasefire process," KHRG, November 2012.

[5] Public protests against unilaterally-implemented natural resource extraction projects have been covered by the domestic media in Myanmar as well as the international media, including for example the halting of the controversial Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River, "Activists celebrate Myitsone dam victory," Myanmar Times, October 2011 and large-scale public protests at a copper mine in Monywa; see: "Peaceful demonstrations and the 'access to remedy' vacuum," Myanmar Observer, October 2nd 2012. Coverage of issues in ethnic areas is more limited, outside of ethnic media sources, for example: "Mine pollutions kills villager's plantations – government fails to act," Karen News, March 15th 2012. Media groups are encouraged to expand their coverage to ensure similar support for collective action across the country.

[6] This photo was taken on March 12th 2012 and shows over 400 villagers from Shweygin and Kyauk Kyi Townships protesting the Shweygin Dam in Nyaunglebin District/ Eastern Bago Region. The community member who took this photo told KHRG that villagers chanted three requests of the Government in Burmese: "No continuation of the dam construction. Compensation for lost farmland flooded by the dam. Let the water flow naturally."

[7] KHRG trains 'community members' in eastern Myanmar to document individual human rights abuses using a standardised reporting format; conduct interviews with other villagers; and write general updates on the situation in areas with which they are familiar. When writing situation updates, community members are encouraged to summarise recent events, raise issues that they consider to be important, and present their opinions or perspective on abuse and other local dynamics in their area. For additional information, see Methodology in the report by clicking link above.